Paris, March 2nd, 1663.
Staying here in a French family, I get glimpses of life for which I am not prepared by any previous reading of French romances, or even by former visits to Paris, when I remained in an hotel frequented by English, and close to the street which seems to belong almost exclusively to them. The prevalent English idea of French society is that it is very brilliant, thoughtless, and dissipated; that family life and domestic affections are almost unknown, and that the sense of religion is confined to mere formalities. Now I will give you two glimpses which I have had: one into the more serious side of Protestant, the other into the under-current of Roman Catholic life. The friend with whom I am staying belongs to a Dizaine, that is to say, she is one of ten Protestant ladies, who group themselves into this number in order to meet together at regular intervals of time, and bring before each other’s consideration any eases of distress they may have met with. There are numbers of these Dizaines in Paris; and now as to what I saw of the working of this plan. One of their principles is to give as little money as possible in the shape of “raw material,” but to husband their resources, so as to provide employment by small outlays of capital in such cases as they find on inquiry to prove deserving. Thus women of very moderate incomes find it perfectly agreeable to belong to the same Dizaine as the richest lady in the Faubourg St. Germain. But what all are expected to render is personal service of some kind; and in these services people of various degrees of health and strength can join: the invalid who cannot walk far, or even she who is principally confined to the sofa, can think and plan and write letters; the strong can walk, and use bodily exertion. They try to raise the condition of one or two families at a time — to raise their condition into self-supporting independence.
For instance, the Dizaine I am acquainted with had brought. before their notice the case of a sick shoemaker, and found him, upon inquiry, living in a room on the fifth floor of one of those high, dark, unclean houses which lie behind the eastern end of the Rue Jacob. Up the noisome, filthy staircase, — badly-lighted and frequented by most disreputable people — to the close, squalid room in which the man lay bed-ridden, did the visitors from the Dizaine toil. He was irritable and savage. I think the English poor are generally depressed and sullen under starvation and neglect; but the French are too apt to become fierce even to those who would fain help them; or it might be illness in the case of this man. His wife was a poor patient creature, whose spirit and intelligence seemed pressed out of her by extreme sorrow, and who had neither strength of mind nor body to enable her to make more of an effort than to let one of the Dizaine know of the case. There were children, too, scrofulous from bad air and poor living. The medical men say, that the diseases arising from this insidious taint are much more common in Paris than in London.
Well, this case was grave matter of consideration for the Dizaine; and the end of the deliberation was this: — One lady undertook to go and seek out a lodging in the same quarter as that in which the shoemaker lived at present, but with more air, more light, and a cleaner, sweeter approach. It was a bad neighbourhood, but it was that in which the family had taken root; and it would have occasioned too great a wrench from all their previous habits and few precious affections, to pull them up by force, and transplant them to an entirely different soil. Another lady undertook to seek out among her acquaintance for a subscriber to a certain sea-bathing charity at Dieppe, who could give an order to the poor little boy who was the worst victim to scrofula. An invalid said that, while awaiting this order, she would see that some old clothes of her own prosperous child should he altered and arranged, so that the little cripple should go to Dieppe decently provided. Some one knew a leather merchant, and spoke of getting a small stock of leather at wholesale prices; while all these ladies declared they would give some employment to the shoemaker himself; and I know that they — great ladles as one or two of them were — toiled up the noisome staircase, and put their delicate little feet up on to the bed where he lay, in order to give him the cheerful comfort of employment again. I suppose this was disturbing the regular course of labour; but I do not fancy that cases of this kind are so common as to affect greatly the more prosperous tradespeople. The last I heard of this shoemaker was, that he was in a (comparatively) healthy lodging; his wife more cheerful, he himself slightly sarcastic instead of positively fierce, and, though still bed-ridden, managing to earn a tolerable livelihood by making shoes to be sold ready-made in the American market; a piece of permanent employment procured for him through the instrumentality of the Dizaine.
Of course these ladies, being human, have their foibles and faults. Their meetings are apt to become gossipy, and they require the firm handling of some superior woman to keep them to the subject and business in hand. Occasional bickerings as to the best way of managing a case, or as to the case most deserving of immediate assistance, will occur; and may be blamed or ridiculed by those who choose rather to see blemishes in execution than to feel righteousness of design. The worst that can be said is, that Dizaines (like all ladies’ committees I ever knew) are the better for having one or two men amongst them. And some of them at least are most happy and fortunate in being able to refer for counsel and advice to M. Jules Simon, whose deep study of the condition of the workwoman (l’ouvriére) in France, and the best remedies to he applied to her besetting evils — whose general, wise, and loving knowledge of the life of the labouring classes — empower him to judge wisely on the various cases submitted to him.
Now as to my glimpse into Roman Catholic wisdom and goodness in Paris. Not long ago — it is probably still going on — there was a regular service held in the crypt under St. Sulpice for very poor workmen, immediately after the grand (high) mass. It was almost what we should call a “ragged church.” They listened to no regular sermon on abstract virtues; but among them stood the priest, with his crucifix, speaking to them in their own homely daily language — speaking of brotherly love, of self-sacrifice, like that of which he held the symbol in his hands — of the temptations to which they were exposed in their various trades and daily lives, using even the technical words, so that every man felt as if his own individual soul was being entreated. And by-and-by there was a quête for those still poorer, still more helpless and desolate than themselves; many of them of course could not give even the sons, or the five-centime piece. But after that the priest went round, speaking low and softly to each individual, and asking each what effort, what sacrifice he could make “in the name of the Lord.” One said, he could sit up with a sick neighbour who needed watching in the night; another offered a day’s wages for the keep of the family of the incapacitated man; the priest suggested to a third that he and his wife might take one of the noisy little children to play among their own children for the day; another offered to carry out the weekly burden of a poor widow. One could not hear all; it was better that such words should be spoken low; that the left hand should not know what the right hand did. But the priests seemed always ready with little suggestions which nothing but an intimate acquaintance with the lives of these poor men could have enabled them to give.
We are talking of leaving Paris, and going leisurely on to Rome. M. de Montalembert was here last night, and wrote me down a little détour which he said we could easily make, rejoining the railroad at Dijon.
March 5th. Avignon. — After all we were not able to follow out M. de Montalembert’s instructions, but I shall keep his paper (written in English), as ‘the places he desired us to visit sound full of interest, and would make a very pleasant week’s excursion from Paris at some future time.
“Provide yourself with Ed. Joanne’s Guide du Voyageur. Est-et-Mur.
“By the Lyons railway to Auxerre (a beautiful city with splendid churches).
“At Auxerre take the diligence (very bad) to Avallon, a very pretty place with fine churches. At Avallon hire a vehicle of some sort to Vezelay, only three leagues off; the most splendid Romanesque church in Europe; and to Chastellux, a fine old castle belonging to the family of that name, from the Crusade of 1147. Returning to Avallon, there is a very bad coach to Sémur, another very pretty place, with a delightful church; seven or eight leagues off. From Sémur by omnibus to Montbard, or Les Launes, which are both railroad stations. Stop at Dijon, a most interesting city, and be sure you see the museum.
When M. de Montalembert wrote out his little plan, I said something about the name “Avallon,” “the Isle of Avallon” being in France, instead of Bretagne; but he reminded me of the fact that the fragments of the Arthurian romances were to be found in one shape or another all over the west of Europe, and claimed Avallon as the place
Where fails not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly but it lies
Deep-meadow’d, happy, fair with orchard lawns,
And bowery hollows crowned with summer sea.
He said that there is also a Morvan, a Forèt de Morvan, in the same district. Speaking of the Crusades (àpropos of the family of de Chastellux, alluded to in the sketch of a possible journey which he had drawn out for us), the company present fell to talking about the rapid disappearance of old French families within the last twenty or thirty years; during which time the value for “long pedigrees” has greatly increased after the fifty years of comparative indifference in which they were held. The five Salles des Croisades, at Versailles were appropriated to the commemoration of the events from which they take their names, by Louis-Philippe, in 1837; previously to which the right of the hundred and ninety-three families that claim to be directly descended from the Crusaders who went on the three first Crusades (from 1106 to 1191 A.D.) was thoroughly examined into, and scrutinized by heralds and savants and lawyers acquainted with the difficulty of establishing descent, before the proud hundred and ninety-three could have their arms emblazoned in the first Salles des Croisades. Among them rank de Chastellux, de Biron, de Lamballe, de Guérin (any ancestor of Eugénie de Guérin, I wonder?) de la Guéche de Rohan, de La Rochefoucauld, de Montalembert, &c. And now in 1864 not two-thirds of these families exist in the direct male line! Yet such has become the value affixed to these old historical titles and names, that they are claimed by collateral relations, by descendants in the female line — nay, even by the purchasers of the lands from which the old Crusaders derived the appellations; and it has even become necessary to have an authorised court to judge of the rights of those who assume new titles and designations. The Montmorencis, indeed, to this day hold a kind of “parliament” of their own, and pluck off the plumage of any jay who dares to assume their name and armorial bearings. There is apparently no power of becoming a “Norfolk Howard” at will in France. They spoke as if our English nobility was a very modern race in comparison with the French; but assigned the palm of antiquity to the great old Belgian families, even in preference to the Austrians, so vain of their many quarterings.
We could not manage to go by Avallon and Dijon, and so we came straight on here, and are spending a few days in this charming inn; the mistral howling and whistling without, till we get the idea that the great leafless acacia close to the windows of our salon has been convulsed into its present twisted form by the agony it must have suffered in its youth from the cruel sharpness of this wind. But, inside, we are in a lofty salon, looking into the picturesque inn yard, sheltered by a folding screen from the knife-like draught of the door; a fire heaped up with blazing logs, resting on brass and irons; skins of wild beasts making the floor soft and warm for our feet; old military plans, and bird’s — eye views of Avignon, as it was two hundred years ago, hanging upon the walls, which are covered with an Indian paper; Eugénie de Guérin to read; and we do not care for the mistral, and are well content to be in our present quarters for a few days.
March 8th. — It was all very well to huddle ourselves up in in-doors comfort for a day or two; but, after that, we longed to go out in spite of the terrible mistral. We certainly found Avignon “cum vento fastidioso;” and began to wish that we had delayed our progress by stopping at Avallon, if that indeed was the place “where never wind blows loudly.” So on the day but one after our arrival here, we happed and wrapped ourselves up tightly and well, and sailed out of the court-yard. We were taken and seized in a moment by the tyrant; all we could do was to shut our eyes, and keep our ground, and wonder where our petticoats were. Going across the bridge was impossible; even the passers-by warned us against the attempt; but, after we had caught our breath again, we turned and went slowly up the narrow streets, choosing those that offered us the most shelter, until we had reached the wide space in front of the Palace of the Popes. With slow perseverance we made our way from point to point, and at length came to a corner in the massive walls where we could rest and look about us. Up above our heads rose the enormous walls — the far-extending shadow of Rome; for never did the French build such a mighty structure; it seemed like a growth of the solid rock itself. The prettiness of the garden round the base of the Palace looked to us mean and out of place, with its tidy flower-beds and low shrubs. All entrance to the Palace was forbidden; it is now a prison.
We went into the cathedral, and the calm atmosphere was so soothing and delightful, that we were inclined to stop there till the mistral had ceased blowing; but, as that might not be for a month or six weeks, on second thoughts we believed it would be better to return to our hotel. We stood for a few minutes on the cathedral-steps, looking at the magnificent view before us, and only regretting the clouds of fine dust, which from time to time were whirled over the landscape. Close to us rose the colossal walls of the Palace; before us, in the centre of the open space, there was a bronze statue of a man dressed in Eastern robes; and we asked whom it represented — what saint? what martyr? It was that of the Persian Jean Althen, the Persian who first introduced the culture of madder into the South of France. His father had held high office under Thomas Koulikhan, but was involved in the fall of his master, and his son fled for protection to the French Consul of Smyrna. It was forbidden under penalty of death to carry the seed of the madder-plant out of the district; but Althen managed to bring some of it to Marseilles, and thus originated the cultivation of madder in le Comtat; the profits of which to the inhabitants may he imagined from the fact that the revenue from this source in one department alone (Vaucluse) amounts annually to more than fifteen millions of francs. Althen and his daughter died in poverty; but of late years the statue which we saw in the Place Rocher des Doms, has been erected to the Persian unbeliever, right opposite to the cathedral and the Palace of the Popes — where once John XXII. (that most infamous believer) lived. I had often seen madder in England, in the shape of a dirty brown powder — the roots ground down; it has a sweetish taste, and the workmen in calico print-works will not unfrequently take a little in their hands as they pass the large bales, and put it into their mouths. I had heard a young English philanthropist say that he had often entertained thoughts of buying a tract of land in Eastern Italy, and introducing the cultivation of madder there, as a means of raising the condition of the people; but I had never heard of Jean Althen before, and, tempestuous as it was, I made my way up to the statue, so that I could look up at the calm, sad face of the poor Persian. I suppose the newly discovered Aniline dyes may uproot the commerce he established, at some future period; but he did a good work in his day, of which no man knew the value while he lived. Our kind landlady at the Hôtel de l’Europe was at the hall-door to greet us on our return, and warned us with some anxiety against going out in the mistral; we were not acclimatised, she said; the English families resident in Avignon did not suffer, because they had been there so long. Of course we asked questions as to these English families, and heard that some had resided in the city for two or three generations; all engaged in the commerce de la garance; so they too had cause to Hess the memory of Jean Althen.
March 12th. — I suppose our landlady thought she would keep us prudent and patient indoors, until we receive the telegram from Marseilles announcing that it is safe for the boats to Civita Vecchia to start — hitherto they have been delayed by this horrid mistral — for she has brought us in a good number of books, most of them topographical, but one or two relating to the legends or history of the district. We are very content to be in the house to-day; the wind is blowing worse than ever; Irene has a bad pain in her side, which we suppose must be a local complaint; for, after trying to cure it by mustard plaisters, she sent our maid out at last to get a blister of a particular size, but without naming what part required the application; and the druggist immediately said, “Ah, for the side! it will last while the mistral lasts; or till she leaves Avignon!” We are learning how to manage wood-fires; the man who waits upon us, and is chambermaid as well as footman, gave us a little lesson yesterday. Always rake the living ashes to the front, and lay on the fresh wood behind; those are his directions, and hitherto they have answered well. This old man is a Pole, and came, an exile, to be a servant in the hotel about thirty years ago. He likes talking to us; but his language is very difficult to understand, though we can quite make out the soft, satiny patois of the South of France, the Provençal dialect, in which our’ questions are answered in the streets.
To-night he has brought in our lamp and cleared away our thé simple. Mary is sitting by the fire, tempted sorely by the wood logs; for every stroke of the sharp, thin poker brings out springing fountains of lovely sparkles. I, having a frugal mind, exclaim at her; for we pay heavily for our basketful of wood; but she, in a pleading, coaxing way, calls my attention to the brilliant effect of her work, and I cannot help watching the bright little lives which one by one vanish, till at length. a poor solitary spark runs about vainly to find its companions, and then dies out itself. It reminds me of a story I heard long ago in Ramsay, in the Isle of Man; — and here I think of it at Avignon! We were questioning a fisherman’s wife at Ramsay about the Manthe Doog of Peel Castle, in which she had a firm belief; and from this talk we passed on to fairies. “Are there any in the island now?” I asked, gravely, of course, for it was a grave and serious subject with her. “None now; none now,” she replied. “My brother saw the last that ever was in the island. He was making a short cut in the hills above Kirk Maughold, and came down on a green hollow, such as there are on the hill-tops, just green all round, and the blue sky above, and as still as still can be, but for the larks. He heard the larks singing up above; but this time he heard a little piping cry out of the ground; so he looked about him everywhere, and followed the sound of the cry; and at length he came to a dip in the grass, and there lay a fairy ever so weak and small, crying sadly. ‘Oh!’ she said, when she saw him, ‘you are none of my own people; I thought perhaps they had come hack for me: but they’ve left me here alone, and all gone away, and I am faint and weak, and could not go with them;’ and she began to cry again. So he meant it well, and he thought he’d carry her home to be a plaything to his children; it would have been better than lying there playing alone in the damp grass: so he tried to catch her; but somehow — he had big hands, had my brother, and an awkward horny way of holding things; and fairies is as tickle to handle as butterflies; and when he had caught her, and she lay very still, he thought he might open his hand after a time, and tell her he was doing it all for her good; but she was just crushed to death, poor thing! So, as he said, there was no use bringing her home in that state; and he threw her away; and that was the end of the last fairy I ever heard of in the island.” The last sparks in the wooden logs at Avignon were my last fairies.
Among our hostess’s books was the authorised report of the trial for the murder of Madame la Marquise de Gange. It is so interesting, and has so strong a local flavour, that we are determined, blow high, blow low, to go over to Ville-Neuve to-morrow, and see her portrait by Mignard in the Eglise de l’Hôpital at Ville-Neuve. She lived in the seventeenth century, and was the daughter of a certain Sieur de Rossau, a gentleman of Avignon, who had married an heiress, the daughter of Joanis Sieur de Nochères. Her father died when she was very young; and she and her mother went to live with the Sieur de Nochéres, probably in one of the large gloomy houses in the narrow old streets we have passed through to-day, with no windows on the lower floor, only strongly-barred gratings; they are almost like fortified dwellings — which, indeed, the state of affairs at the time they were built required them to be. The little girl promised to be a great beauty, and bad besides a dowry of 500,000 livres; and it was no great wonder that all the well-born young men of Provence (and some who were not young, too), came a-wooing to the grand-daughter of the rich old burgess of Avignon. But where force was so often employed as a method of courtship, and at a time when obstacles to success (in the way of fathers or mothers or obstinate relations) were so easily got rid of by determined suitors, it was thought better to arrange an early marriage for the little girl, who was called Mademoiselle de Châteaublanc, after one of the estates of her grandfather; and, accordingly, she was espoused in 1649, at the age of thirteen, by the Marquis de Castellane, grandson of the Duc de Villars. Her husband is described as being as charming as his bride. He was handsome and sweet-tempered, besides being a scion of a great French house. He took his lovely little bride to Paris, where she was the admired of all beholders at the court of the young King Louis XIV His boyish majesty was struck with her rare beauty, and conferred on her the honour of dancing with her in a court ballet; and the docile courtiers followed his lead, and christened her “La belle Provençale,” by which name she was thereafter better known than by her legitimate title of Marquise de Castellane.
When first she Came to town
They ca’ed her Jess MacFarlane,
But, now she’s come and gone,
They ca’ her The Wandering Darling.
Poor young Belle Provençale! admired by the King of France and all his men; living a bright, happy life of innocent pleasure in Paris; with a charming husband, by whom she was passionately beloved, and whose affection she fondly esteemed; rich, lovely, and of high rank — how little she could have anticipated her rapid descent from the pinnacle of good fortune! Her first deep grief was the loss of her husband. He was drowned off the coast of Sicily; and she came back from the gay life of Paris to mourn him deeply in the austere home of her grandfather, in the city of Avignon. The only change she sought for in these years of mourning was to go into retreat in the convent at Ville-Neuve — the village we saw on the opposite side of the Rhone, the other day, when we stood on the cathedral steps. The account of her sorrow and regret at the death of her young husband is evidently so truthful and sincere that one almost wonders at her marrying again; but I suppose in those days a bourgeois grandfather and a widowed mother were considered but poor protectors for a beautiful young woman of great wealth.
At any rate, I read of her having, at length, selected from among many suitors the Sieur de Lanide, Marquis de Gange, Baron du Languedoc, Gouverneur de St. André, to be her second husband. She was married to him in 1658, when he was twenty, and she twenty-two years of age. He was as beautiful as she was, but of a violent and ferocious character. For the first few months after their marriage he appeared to he devoted to her; but, by-and-by, he grew both weary of her society and suspiciously jealous of all her former friends. It was rather a lonely life now for the poor lady, shut up in her husband’s Chateau de Gange, while he went about enjoying himself in provincial society, and occasionally visiting Paris, where once she had been so sought after and cherished. Still there is no account of her ever having repined at this seclusion; of course, the official reports of events begin at a much later period. Things went on in this way between the husband and wife for some time without any change. Then two of his brothers, the Abbé and the Chevalier de Gange, came to live at the Château do Gauge; and a short time afterwards her old grandfather the Sieur do Nochères died, leaving Madame de Gange his heiress. The Marquis, her husband, was much occupied in looking after the various estates to which his wife had succeeded under her grandfather’s will. Gauge is seven leagues from Montpellier, and nineteen from Avignon, in a lonely, wild district; the château was the principal house in a small village, the inhabitants of which were dependants of the Marquis. But, for some little time after the Sieur de Nochères’ death, it was necessary for his heiress to be in Avignon; and, whether it was, as the rumour went at the time, that she had reason to suspect that a cream which, one day at her mother’s table, her husband pressed her much to eat was poisoned with arsenic, or whether she remembered the horoscope drawn for her in Paris which predicted that she should die a violent death, or whether, as is most likely, her seven or eight years’ knowledge of her husband’s character made her fearful and suspicious, it is certain that before leaving Avignon at this time, she made a singular will, which was attested with all possible legal forms, to this effect. Her mother was to be her sole heir, with power to leave all the property after her death to either of the children which Madame de Gauge had had by her second husband; the boy was six, the girl five years old at this time, and they were living with their grandmother at Avignon. Although this will was executed in secret, she made a solemn declaration before the magistrates of Avignon to the effect that, though she might be compelled to make a subsequent will, this and this alone was valid.
Poor lady! she had but too much reason to dread the time when she would be obliged to return to the lonely château, far away from her friends, in the power of a cruel and negligent husband, who hungered after the uncontrolled and unincumbered possession of her fortune, and who might leave her again, as he had done before, exposed to the profligate and insolent solicitations of the Abbé, the cleverest of the three brothers, who had already traded on her misery at her husband’s neglect and ill-concealed dislike of her, by saying that, if his sister-in-law would accede to his wishes, he would bring her back her husband’s affection. The Chevalier seems to have been a brutal fool, under the influence of his clever brother, the Abbé. In the interval between her grandfather’s death and her return to the Château de Gange, these three brothers veiled their designs under an appearance of the greatest complaisance to Madame de Gauge. But all their seeming attention and consideration, all her husband’s words and acts of lover-like devotion, ended in this question — How soon would she go back to the Château de Gange? Avignon was unhealthy in hot weather, while the autumn, the vintage-season, was exquisite at the château. At length, wearied out with their urgency, and dreading the consequences of too persistent a refusal, she left Avignon for La Gange. But, first, she gave the sum of twenty pistoles to different convents, to say masses for her soul, in case of her dying suddenly without extreme unction. It gives one an awful idea of the state of society in those days (reign of Charles II. in England), to think of this help less young woman, possessed by a too well-founded dread, yet not knowing of any power to which she could appeal for protection, and obliged to leave the poor safety of a city to go to a lonely house, where those who wished her evil would be able to work their will.
At the Chateau de Gange she found the two brothers-in-law, who had returned from Avignon a few days previously, and her mother-in-law, a good, kind woman, to whose presence one fancies the young Marquise must have clung. But the Dowager Marquise habitually lived at Montpellier, and she returned there soon after the Marquise’s arrival. While the old lady had remained in the château, all had gone on well; but on her departure the Marquis set off back to Avignon, leaving instructions to his brothers to coax his wife into making another will. They performed their work skilfully; they told her there could be no perfect reconciliation with her husband, until she had shown full confidence in him by bequeathing him all her property in case of her death. For the sake of peace, and remembering her secret testament at Avignon, she agreed to their wishes; and a will, leaving all her property unconditionally to her husband, was made at the Château de Gange. It was short-sighted of the poor lady, if she valued her life. They at any rate did not value it; and now, the sooner they got rid of her the better. So much is stated in the report of the trial on authority, which seems to have satisfied the judges at the time. For the further events, there is the direct testimony of the Marquise on her death-bed and of other witnesses; and there are curious glimpses of the manners of the period, as well as of the state of society.
The dramatis personae were disposed of as follows, on the 17th of May, 1667:— The mother of these three wicked sons — the Marquis, the Abbé, and the Chevalier de Gauge — was at her house in Montpellier; the Marquis himself was tarrying in the neighbourhood of Avignon, ostensibly employed in looking after the estates of his wife; she was at the château in the lonely village, keeping up the farce of friendly politeness with her brothers-in-law, whom she dreaded inexpressibly. There was a chaplain in the house, who was their tool, as she well knew; and a few neighbours from the village came to see her from time to time, the wives of the Intendant and of the Huguenot minister; worthy and kindhearted women, as will be proved, though not of the class of society to which she had been accustomed in the happy days in Paris. On the 17th of May, she required some medicine, and sent for a draught to the village doctor. When it came, it was so black and nasty that she took some physic which she had ready in her chamber instead, and threw the draught away. A pig which licked up the draught died that same day. She was not well, and stopped in bed for the whole morning; but in the afternoon, finding it rather dull, she sent for two or three of the good women of the neighbourhood to come and keep her company, and ordered a collation to be served to her friends in her bedroom. Her indisposition, whatever it was, does not seem to have affected her appetite; for she deposed that she ate a great deal, and to that fact she attributes her safety from one way of attacking her life.
The Abbé and the Chevalier, hearing of their sister-in-law’s party, and the entertainment that was going on, came into the chamber uninvited, and made themselves very agreeable. By-and-by, the neighbours went away; it was still early in the afternoon; and the Abbé and Chevalier accompanied the good ladies to the great hall, and Madame was left alone in bed. Presently back came the Abbé, with a terrible face; he brought a pistol, a sword, and a cup of poison — a greater choice of deaths than that offered to Fair Rosamond; but, all the same, the Marquise must die by either fire, steel, or poison. With quick presence of mind she chose to drink the latter; and after doing so, she turned round as in writhing agony, and spat out the contents of her mouth into the pillow. Her skin was blackened by the burning drops that fell upon it, and her mouth was horribly burnt; and no wonder, for the deposition says that the drink was made of arsenic and corrosive sublimate, mixed up in aqua-fortis. There was evidently no idea of doing things by halves in those days! She left the thick part of the liquid in the bottom of the glass; but the Chevalier, who by this time had come up to see if he could render himself useful in the business, stirred up the sediment and made her drink it. Then she begged hard to have a priest to shrive her soul; and, as they felt pretty secure that no help could now avail her, they went away, and sent the household chaplain, le Prêtre Perrette, who was also curé of the village, to give her what spiritual aid he could. He had lived in the de Gauge family for five-and-twenty years, and was ready to connive at any wickedness which they might plan.
Now, while they went to find this worthy chaplain, the poor lady was left alone in her bed-chamber, and looked about for means of escape. There was none, except jumping from the window into the great enclosed court-yard, twenty feet below, and all paved with flags; but that risk was better than remaining where she was; so she took courage, and was on the point of throwing herself out, when Perrette, the chaplain, came in with the viaticum. He ran to the window, and tried to pluck her back; but the petticoat which he caught hold of gave way, and only a fragment of it remained in his hand. She was down below, pushing her long black hair down her throat, and thus, with wonderful presence of mind, trying to make herself sick; in which attempt she succeeded. Then she went round the court-yard, trying all the doors with trembling haste but they were all locked; and that wicked chaplain in the chateau above was hastening to find the relentless brothers-in-law and to tell them Of her escape. She ran round and round the enclosure, beating and striving at the doors; and at length a groom came out of the stables which were at one end of the yard, whom she implored to let her out by the stable-door into the street or road; saying she had swallowed some poison by mistake, and must find an antidote without loss of time.
When she was once out of the accursed premises, she went to the house of the Sieur des Prats, who lived in the village. He was absent; but many of the good women of the place were assembled there on a visit to his wife. We may judge of the rank of the company by the fact that, in the depositions, all the married women are called “Mademoiselle,” e.g., “Mademoiselle Brunel, wife of the Huguenot minister,” &c.; and in the Traité sur la maniére d’Ecrire des Lettres, par Grimarest, 1667, the rules for the addresses to letters are these:— If a letter is to a lady of quality, she is to be called “Madame” in the address, and the letter is to be tied up with silk, and sealed with three seals; if the correspondent is only la femme d’un gentilhome, her titles on the superscription must be “Mademoiselle Mademoiselle,” so and so; but if she is merely the wife of a bourgeois, simple “Mademoiselle” is all that is to be accorded to her.
Now all the ladies assembled at the Sieur des Prats were Mademoiselles; but they were brave women, as we shall see. In amongst this peaceful company, enjoying an afternoon’s gossip, burst the lady of the Château de Gange; her dress (that which she had worn in bed) torn and disordered; her hair hanging about her; her face in all probability livid with mortal terror and the effects of the fierce poison. She had hardly had time to give any explanation of her appearance, when the Chevalier de Gange rushed into the room in search of his half-killed victim; the Abbé remained below, guarding the door of the house. The Chevalier walked up and down the room, saying that Madame was mad; that she must return with him, and uttering angry menaces. While his back was turned, Mademoiselle Brunel, wife of the Huguenot minister of the village, gave Madame de Gange small pieces of orvietan out of a box which she carried in her pocket. Orvietan, be it remembered, was considered a sovereign remedy against all kinds of poisons; and the fact of the minister’s wife carrying this antidote about in her pocket, wherever she went, tells a good deal as to the insecurity of life at that period. Madame de Gange managed to swallow a number of pieces of orvietan, unperceived by the Chevalier; but when one of the ladies, pitying her burning thirst, went and brought her a glass of water, he perceived the kindness, and broke out afresh, dashing the glass from Madame’s mouth, and bidding all present to leave the room instantly, as he did not like witnesses to his sister-in-law’s madness. He drove them out, indeed, but they only went as far as the next room, where they huddled together in affright, wondering what they could do for the poor lady. She, meanwhile, begged for mercy in the most touching manner; she promised that she would forgive all, if he would but spare her life: but at these words he ran at her with his sword; holding it short, so that it could serve him as a dagger and give the surer stabs. She ran to the door, and clung to it, crying out afresh for pity, for mercy, for help. He stabbed her five times before his weapon broke in her shoulder.
Then the ladies burst in to the assistance of Madame, who was lying on the floor bathed in blood. Some ran to her help; others called through the window to the passers-by to fetch the surgeon quickly. Hearing their cry through the window, the Abbé came up; and, finding his sister-in-law not yet dead, he began to hit her with the butt-end of his pistol, till brave Mademoiselle Brunel caught hold of his arm, and hung all her weight upon it. He struck her over and over again, to make her let go; but she would not; and all the women flew upon him “like lionesses,” and dragged him by main force out of the house, and turned him into the village-street. One of the ladies, who was skilled in surgery, returned to the room where Madame de Gange lay; and at her desire she put her knee against the wounded shoulder of Madame, and pulled out the broken point of the sword by main force. Then she staunched the blood, and bound up the wounds. The Chevalier had been in too blind a passion, apparently, to think of stabbing any vital part; and, in spite of poison, and the heavy fall on the paved court-yard, and the five stabs, there seemed yet a chance for Madame de Gange’s life. That long and terrible May afternoon was now drawing to a close; and the Abbé and the Chevalier thought it well to take advantage of the coming darkness to ride off to Auberas, an estate of their brother’s, about a league from La Gange. There they quarrelled with each other, because their work was left incomplete, and were on the point of fighting, when it seems as if they thought it better to take again to flight. After the steed was stolen, every one bethought him of locking the stable door. The “consuls”, as the magistrates of the district were called, came to offer their services to Madame de Gange, who was lying between life and death. The neighbouring barons paid her visits of condolence; one of them was practical enough to think of securing the assassins; but two or three days had then elapsed, and the Abbé and Chevalier had embarked at Ogde, a small port on the Mediterranean.
Her husband, the Marquis, took the affair very coolly. He heard of it at Avignon one morning; but he did not mention it to any friends whom he met in the street, nor did he set off to see his wife till the afternoon of the following day. But he had the will, which his wife had been compelled to make at La Gange, safe with him at Avignon; and before he left the city, he went to see the Vice-Legate, with a view to this document, by which his wife bequeathed him all in case of her death. The Vice-Legate refused to recognise it, and then first informed him of the will by which Madame de Gange had left her property to her mother, and which rendered null any testament made after that date. The Marquis was not induced by this information to be more tender towards his poor wounded wife. He found her lying at the house of the Sieur des Prats, in the most dangerous state. At first she reproached him a little for leaving her at the mercy of his brothers; but almost directly she begged his pardon for what she had said, and was most tender and sweet in her conversation with him. He thought he could take advantage of her gentle frame of mind, and urged her to revoke her declaration about the perpetual legality of the Avignon will; but his pertinacity on this point at such a time opened her eyes, and henceforward she had no hope of touching his stony heart. Her mother, Madame de Ropace, came to see her; but she was so disgusted at seeing the Marquis’s pretended affection and assumption of watchful care over his wife, that she left at the close of three days. It was evident now to all that the end was drawing near; the wounds did not touch life, but enough of the poison had been swallowed to destroy any constitution. Madame de Gauge begged to have the extreme unction administered; but the monks in attendance said that, before that could be done, she must forgive all her enemies. She was too gentle to harbour revenge; but when Perrette, the chaplain, and the accomplice of her assassins, came in his sacred vestments to administer the last sacrament, it did cost her a severe struggle to receive the wafer from his hands. But she forgave him, too, as completely as the rest; and, fearing that her little son might at some future time think it his duty to avenge her death, she sent for him, and tried to make him understand the Christian duty of forgiveness. Meanwhile, the report of her assassination had spread far and wide, and the Parliament of Toulouse despatched Monsieur de Catelan to La Gange to take her evidence as that of a dying woman. When he first came, she was in a state of stupor; but the next day she rallied and saw him alone. A fresh terror had seized upon her, and she believed herself not safe at La Gauge, and entreated him to take her to Montpellier; but it was too late then, and in the afternoon she died, nineteen days after the attack upon her life.
Monsieur de Gange now became alarmed, and pretended to be in the deepest distress, and that his grief could only be alleviated by the discovery and punishment of the murderers of his dear wife. But the unmoved M. de Catelan arrested him, and took the charge of prosecution and punishment for the crime upon himself, in the name of the Parliament of Toulouse. The effects of the Marquis were sealed up, and he was to be conveyed to the prison at Montpellier: but he could not arrive there before night for some reason; and the inhabitants of the town illuminated it in order that the populace might see the face of the accused criminal, as he came slowly up the street. The ladies of Avignon, and those of Montpellier, put on mourning for the murdered Madame de Gange, as if she had been a near relation. Her mother, of whom we hear very little until now, led the chorus of feminine indignation. She vowed vengeance against the Marquis, and swore that she would pursue him through every court of justice in the kingdom, till her daughter was avenged. She published a pamphlet on the case, to which M. de Gange replied, saying that her statements were all based on presumption. But the stern hand of the law was upon him, and from it he could not so easily escape. M. de Catelan twice interrogated the Marquis, the last time for eleven hours; the basis on which he founded his questions being not “presumptions,” but the evidence which the lawyer had obtained from the dying Madame de Gange in that interview which they two had had alone. On the 21st of August, 1667, judgment was given through the mouth of the President of the Parliament of Toulouse. It was always supposed by the public that the powerful relations of the Marquis had used unfair means to mitigate the severity of the sentence. But it was severe enough, if only it had been carried into execution. The Abbé and the Chevalier de Gauge were to be broken alive upon the wheel. The Marquis was to be banished for life, to be degraded from his rank, and to have all his lands, goods, and property confiscated to the use of the king. The chaplain, Perrette, was to be deprived of ecclesiastical orders, and to become a galley-slave for life.
The ladies of Avignon and Montpellier were indignant that the Marquis de Gange was not to be broken on the wheel as well as his brothers. But where were these three guilty men? The Abbé and the Chevalier had escaped by sea, months ago; and now the Marquis had made his way out of the prison of Toulouse; prison doors, in those days, had a fatal facility in opening before rank or wealth. The Marquis and the Chevalier met in Venice — escaped felons as they were. But they took service for the Republic; and, being good Christians, they went to fight the heathen Turks in Candia, where they met an honourable death in 1669. The Abbé, superior in intellect to the others, lived a longer and more eventful life. He fled into Holland, and after some wanderings about he met with an old acquaintance, who was unscrupulous, or perhaps was ignorant of his crime, and who introduced him to the Count de la Lippe, sovereign prince of Viane, about two leagues from Utrecht. To him the Abbé de Gauge was presented as the Sieur de la Martellière, a Frenchman of extraordinary learning and merit, of the Huguenot or Protestant religion, who was consequently under social disadvantages in his own country. The Count was pleased with the appearance and manners of the so-called Sieur de la Martellière, and appointed him governor, or tutor, to his son, a little boy of nine or ten years old.
But by-and-by the persecution of the French Huguenots began, and hundreds of them were leaving France, some one of whom might recognise the former Abbé de Gange, in the Protestant Sieur de la Martellière; so he opposed the settlement of French refugees in the neighbourhood of Viane on purely political reasons. He had been governor to the son of the Count de la Lippe for several years, when he fell desperately in love with a beautiful young girl, a distant relation of the Countess’s, who lived with her. His poverty and his dependent position were no obstacles to his marriage with the lovely portionless maiden; but the obscurity of his supposed birth made a marriage between them impossible. He presumed on his services to the Count, and on the years of moral conduct which he had passed under the Count’s own eyes. He wrote an eloquent letter, in which he confessed himself to be that Abbé de Gange for whom the kingdom of France had been ransacked in vain; pleading false witness, perjury, passion, whatever you will, in extenuation of the crime of which he was accused; but proving his sixteen quarterings through it all. He spoke of his many years’ life of pure morality, such as the Count de la Lippe himself could bear witness to; of his conversion to the faith which the sovereign Prince of Viane held himself, and of his zeal in its interests: had he not advised the Huguenot refugees not to tarry where the long arm of France might reach them, but to fly further east?
His eloquence was all in vain. The Count de la Lippe seems to have been shocked beyond measure at finding out that in the tutor of his little boy — his growing lad — he had been harbouring the profligate, terrible, and infamous Abbé de Gange, with whose crimes all civilised Europe had been made acquainted. The Sieur de la Martellière was ordered to leave the dominions of the Count de la Lippe without delay. He went to Amsterdam, and thither also, without delay, the young girl — the poor, pretty relation of Madame la Comtesse — followed him, and became his wife. His pupil, the young Count, now growing up to manhood, although told by his father what an infamous criminal he had had for tutor, persevered in sending help to the Sieur de la Martellière and his wife at Amsterdam; until some unexpected fortune from one of Madame’s relations put them at ease, as far as regarded money. M. de la Martellière bore so high a character that he was admitted into the Consistory of Protestants at Amsterdam. But, wherever he went — at church or) at synod, in market or alone with his wife in their most humble secret privacy, he was haunted by the face of Madame de Gange. That was said at the time; that is believed still.
The poor lady’s daughter did not do her much credit, and I will say nothing about her. The son, whom she had taught forgiveness on her death-bed, became a captain of dragoons; and, when at Metz, suppressing the Huguenots (perhaps he had never been told of Mademoiselle Brunel, and how she had helped and defended his mother in her great strait), he fell in love with the beautiful wife of a goldsmith. The dragoons were billeted at her house, and tried to force her, at the point of the bayonet, to go to mass. Apparently, her religion was dearer to her than her virtue; for she sent for the captain, and said to him:— “Monsieur, vous m’avez dit que vous m’aimez; voulez-vous me le prouver? donnez-moi les moyens de sortir du royaume; et pour récompense de ce service, que votre amour s’imagine le prix.” “Non, Madame,” said the Marquis, “je ne me prévaudrai point de votre situation; je serais au comble de mes voeux si vous accordiez à ma tendresse ce que je pourrais obtenir où vous êtes, mais je me reprocherais toute ma vie d’abuser de votre état; je vais vous en délivrer; je ne vous demande pour récompense que la grâce de penser quelquefois à moi.” After that, he sent her secretly across the frontier.
I shut up my landlady’s books, and prepared to go to bed. I am alone in the lofty salon, which was perhaps in existence when Madame de Gauge used to reside in Avignon; the fire is gone out, the lamp flickers. The ever-persistent wind is tearing round the house. Mary and Irene are fast asleep in the chambers beyond. The quietness of all things, the dead stillness of the hour, has made me realise all the facts deposed to, as if they had only happened to-day. Tomorrow we will go to Ville-Neuve, and see the portrait of the murdered lady.
March 16th. — Though the mistral has but little abated, we went across to Ville-Neuve this morning. Irene was not well enough to go; so Mary and I, attended by Demetrius, our courier, made the expedition. Demetrius has no fancy for excursions off the common route, and only went with us, because he thought himself bound in duty to humour our eccentricity. The suspension-bridge over the Rhone was shaking and trembling with the wind as we crossed it; and our struggle in that long exposure was so exhausting, that when we were once in the comparative tranquillity of the other side, we stood still and looked about us for some time before going on. The colour of the landscape on each side of the rushing river was a warm grey; rocks, soil, buildings, all the same. There was but little vegetation to be seen; a few olive-trees, of a moonlight green, grew in sheltered places. We thought it must be like the aspect of Palestine, from Stanley’s account; and Demetrius, who had been several times in the Holy Land, confirmed this notion of ours; but then he was rather apt to confirm all our notions, provided they did not occasion him extra trouble. After we had crossed the bridge, we turned to the right, and went along a steep rocky road to the summit of the hill, above Ville-Neuve. Below us lay the town founded by Philippe le Bel, but completed by the Popes resident at Avignon, and fallen to comparative decay ever since the papal seat was re-established at Rome.
We dropped down to the centre of the old town; the buildings in it were of the same massive construction as the palace, three miles off, at Avignon; the houses were very lofty, and built of solid blocks of rough yellow-grey stone. There were arcades beneath their lower stories, and but little space between the two sides of the winding streets for carriages or horses. The way through the town was so tortuous that there was no bit of distance ever seen; and we felt as if we had fallen into a crevasse. Not a person was in the deserted streets. After trying at one or two porte-cochères, we at length hit upon the convent in which there was the portrait of Madame de Gange, painted by Mignard, her famous contemporary. A nun, in attendance upon the hospital at the end of the court-yard, came to receive us, and was all surprise at our request to see the picture. Was it not the famous painting of “The Last Judgement,” done by the good King Réné, that we wished to look at? At any rate, both pictures hung side by side in the ante-chapel to our right on entering. So we went in, and gazed at the face of the heroine of the tragical history we had been reading the night before. She was dressed, like our guide the nun, in a black and white conventual dress, such as I suppose she would assume when en retraite after her first husband’s death; she held red and white roses in her hands, in her scapular;. the lovely colour was needed by the painter, or perhaps La Belle Provençale was fond of the flowers. Her face was one of exquisite beauty and great peacefulness of expression-round rather than oval; dark hair, dark eyebrows, and blue eyes; there was very little colour excepting in the lips. You would have called it the portrait of a sweet, happy, young woman, innocently glad in her possession of rare beauty.
After gratifying the nun by looking at the newly-painted and tawdry chapel beyond, and by doing our utmost to feel admiration for King Réné’s picture, we left the convent. For a minute or two we were full of Madame de Gange; then, I am sorry to say, the carnal feeling of hunger took possession of us, after our long walk; and we sent Demetrius off in every direction to buy us a cake — bread — anything eatable. He came back to where we were sitting under the shelter of a rock. There was no shop for eatables, not even an hotel, or a restaurant, or a café, or an estaminet. So we came back to the Hôtel de l’Europe, Avignon, with very good appetites for the table d’hôte.
March l7th. — A telegram from Marseilles. A boat starts to-day for Civita Vecchia.
This web edition published by:
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55